Advancing open hardware with a few clear words.

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Over the last few years we’ve been excited to be part of the rapidly growing open-source hardware community. One of the recurring issues in this community has been the lack of agreement on what constitutes an acceptable license for open hardware. For open source software, there’s a common language to start with: the Open Source Definition. But where is the analogous root document for us hardware folks?


Of course, there simply isn’t one. Or rather, there hasn’t been one until now.


Over the last few months, we’ve been helping to hammer out a draft definition of what it means to be open source hardware, in collaboration with open source stars including folks from Chumby, Bug Labs, Sparkfun, Arduino, Adafruit, MakerBot, Eyebeam, Make, and Creative Commons, amongst others. It’s a modest but important step in defining what it means for a project to be open hardware.

The current draft definition is labeled version 0.3, and hopefully we’ll be advancing it towards a 1.0 in the coming months. There’s an Open Hardware Summit scheduled to take place before Maker Faire NY. As things advance we’ll be working on ways to connect to actual licenses and to the other needs of our community. If you have the inclination, please check out the draft and see what we’ve been up to.

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9 thoughts on “Advancing open hardware with a few clear words.

  1. "we’ve been helping to hammer out a draft definition of what it means to be open source software"

    I think you mean ‘hardware’ there.

    The license is interesting, but it’s odd that it’s so much more open than the open source software licenses and most of the CC licenses. What is the distinction between it and public domain? Don’t you think releasing the software for a project under GPL and the hardware under OSHL would create an impedance mismatch?

    1. >I think you mean ‘hardware’ there.

      Yes, thanks.

      >The license is interesting, but it’s odd that it’s so much more open than the open source software licenses and most of the CC licenses.

      This isn’t a license, it’s a definition. When finalized, it will be the set of requirements that every open source hardware license needs to comply with. It’s actually slightly more restrictive than the analogous document for OSS.

      > What is the distinction between it and public domain?

      This is a set of guidelines on what will go into the license. The specific differences between "all rights reserved" and "public domain" can be a wide spectrum and still compatible with this definition.

      >Don’t you think releasing the software for a project under GPL and the hardware under OSHL would create an impedance mismatch?

      No, not remotely. It’s designed to help create licenses that will be nice and compatible.


      Windell H. Oskay
      drwho(at)evilmadscientist.com
      http://www.evilmadscientist.com/

  2. So would a PDF(or such) of the schematic be considered a violation ? I mean technically i can print out or take screenshots of source code and give it away, but it goes against the spirit of the whole OSI thing. i realise some people use design systems that make it hard for home users to use the designs easily, but it still feels like they should at least be provided.

    I know it says not like compiled code, but a PDF is basically the raw materials, however sometimes there is some magic in the PCB layout too

    if only someone could do a collada style format for circuits

    1. > So would a PDF(or such) of the schematic be considered a violation ?

      Ideally one publishes both an easy-to-read PDF and the original design documents, in the format that makes it easy to modify them.

      >technically i can print out or take screenshots of source code and give it away,
      >but it goes against the spirit of the whole OSI thing. i realise some people use
      >design systems that make it hard for home users to use the designs easily,
      >but it still feels like they should at least be provided.

      Yes, these are tough questions. Releasing design files from $10,000 software is usually of very limited utility.

      > I know it says not like compiled code, but a PDF is basically the raw materials,
      > however sometimes there is some magic in the PCB layout too

      Not only that, there’s often "magic" in things that aren’t in the PCB layout, like the exact type of PCB material used– critical for certain RF circuitry, for example.


      Windell H. Oskay
      drwho(at)evilmadscientist.com
      http://www.evilmadscientist.com/

  3. " The documentation must include design files in the preferred form for which a hardware developer would modify the design."

    This, I think, is the biggest problem facing OSHW right now. There are a handful of good FOSS PCB layout programs, but there is not really anything for good CAD design work. You can distribute in STL formats but those are not a format where which a hardware developer would modify the design.

    When are we going to get a good Solid-modeling FOSS program?

    1. I agree that this is critical. It is coming along, and it will get there eventually. Perhaps not soon, but eventually.

      The problem is being approached from several different sides. From illustration: Inkscape CAD is being developed. From 2D cad: QCAD. From 3D modeling: Blender CAD. From constructive geometry: OpenSCAD. And direct, existing projects like BRL-CAD, gCAD3d, Open CASCADE, and FreeCAD.


      Windell H. Oskay
      drwho(at)evilmadscientist.com
      http://www.evilmadscientist.com/

  4. I don’t quiet understand for such a licensing… If I as a creator of a product I wanted to sell, and maybe even copywrite the item to avoid my competitors directly copying my device – the last thing I would use is an item with an open source license to it. It would force me to have to release my design and software to my competitors. In other words, such a licensing would stop anyone who intends to sell a product from using your products inside theirs. Which I would think would greatly limit your product from being used. Unless it is your purpose to ensure that only hobbyists ever use anything from your website. Or am I missing something?

    1. "If I as a creator of a product I wanted to sell, and maybe even copywrite the item to avoid my competitors directly copying my device – the last thing I would use is an item with an open source license to it"

      that’s correct, open source hardware is not for you.

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